Big Centre Lee B Radio Television Tiswas

Feature: My 30 Years ‘in the business’

As I sit and write this, July 1989 is 30 years ago and yet it doesn’t seem 5 minutes ago to me.

So why am I sitting here thinking about 30 years ago? Well, it’s the 30th anniversary of my first setting foot in the wonderful world of broadcasting and the media. Sounds very grand doesn’t it. And why should there be anything special about me having been doing stuff in broadcasting and the media for 30 years? Well there isn’t. Not really. Countless people have done it for way longer than I. Plenty of them have even done some good stuff. A few of them have even become friends of mine, which is kinda cool when you think about it.

No, its not the kind of anniversary that anyone would consider in any other way than “Oh, that’s nice. Anyway…”. But, you see, its special to me. Very special to me. And so here, in my little corner of the dear old web (which has been around for almost as long), I thought I’d mark it with a bit of a reminisce.

I’m not gonna go through everything, just a few things that come to mind…

DeeJay the Beacon Bear was Beacon Radio’s mascot from the late 1980s to the mid-1990s. I know who ‘played’ him too, but I’m not telling…

It all started, as all good yarns do, on a Monday – the 17th July 1989. I’d bought my bus pass for the week, I’d caught the 126 and 501 buses taking me to the gates of the legendary Beacon Radio building on the Tettenhall Road in Wolverhampton. I’d been granted a week of Work Experience with them and I was gonna make the most of it! I was there with two other people from my school. They went off to do their things and I did mine. During that week I saw everything that goes on in a proper local radio station and it led to 11 smashing years spent enjoying myself at the wonderful Beacon Radio. Sadly, Beacon is no longer with us, having been assimilated into a larger group and losing its name, its identity, its home, and (fatally) its audience. There is still a station to be heard on its original frequencies but it is now only a generic station with no connection to its area.

Nevertheless, over the 11 years I was there, Beacon gave me such an education in every aspect of radio broadcasting, it’ll always have a special place in my heart.

Bob Holness – host of the classic Central version of Blockbusters – a thoroughly decent gentleman

Strangely, the following week was also the first time I set foot in a television studio. On Friday 28th July 1989. I attended a recording of the quiz show Blockbusters at the Central Television Studios in Birmingham. I didn’t know it then, but these studios – originally known as the ATV Centre – would play a big part in my life in the coming years. Kinda neat.

Lee with Andy Walters, back at Beacon for one final time in the Summer of 2013. Image by Munro Jack (Munro is one of Beacon's original presenters)
Lee with Andy Walters, back at Beacon for one final time in the Summer of 2013. Image by Munro Jack (Munro is one of Beacon’s original presenters)

I always said that Beacon was the happiest place I ever worked. Everyone knew exactly what they were doing. There’s was a lot of hard work and a lot of laughter too. They were like one big happy family. OK, now I’ll take the rose-tinted spectacles off. There were plenty of ups and downs for the place. There were wonderful people and also some blasted fools. Plenty of egos all over the place jostling for position – but that’s just the way it is. You couldn’t fault the teamwork though – when Beacon was allowed to be Beacon, it just worked. With everybody pushing in the right direction. And that’s how I prefer to remember it.

With some of the Beacon Presenters from 'my' time, at a reunion in the West Mids Studio. Image by Andy Walters
With some of the Beacon Presenters from ‘my’ time, at a reunion in the West Mids Studio. Image by Andy Walters

When I left Beacon in 2000 I worked as a teacher at New College in Telford, I moved to the original Heart FM in Birmingham where I helped schedule commercials. At the same time (from 1999) I presented my own weekend daft grown-up kids show “UpAndHappy!” on WCRfm in Wolverhampton (which also ran for 11 years). In 2005 I moved to work full-time at WCRfm as their Training and Development Officer. I also worked as a lecturer at City of Wolverhampton College and the University of Wolverhampton, I taught radio skills to blind and partially sighted teenagers at the Beacon Centre in Wolverhampton, I presented Children In Need on BBC Radio WM, and I also helped to launch a couple of online radio stations under the names of “The City” and “Gorgeous FM”.

With my Wife Nikki, who co-presented UpAndHappy! with me
Acting the fool on UpAndHappy!
Acting the fool on UpAndHappy! As always!
At home in a radio studio
Promotional shot for the launch of “The City” radio station. The station ultimately went on to become Gorgeous FM on DAB for the West Midlands

During this time, the internet was growing and various ‘anorak’ groups were cropping up allowing people to indulge their interests. Two of particular interest to me were TiswasOnline and ATV Land. Through being a founder member of the TiswasOnline gang, I ended up appearing on Central News talking about the old ATV studios and then I ended up on “Dick’n’Dom in da Bungalow” on BBC2 and BBC1 dressed as a rabbit, singing ‘Bright Eyes’ from Watership Down just like a friend of mine had done on Tiswas when he was 5.

Getting flanned by Benny Mills - the REAL Phantom Flan Flinger from Tiswas, outside of the ATV Centre in Birmingham, where Tiswas actually happened. Those are the guys from TiswasOnline with me.
Yes, that’s me on the left getting a pie in the face from the REAL Phantom Flan Flinger – Benny Mills. We’re standing outside the original Tiswas studio, at ATV Centre in Birmingham.
And that's what the Phantom looks like under the mask...
And so THAT’S what Benny (the Phantom Flan Flinger) actually looks like. He smashing! Alongside me, left to right, Andrew Wooding, Philip Whitmore (bending over), Pete Thomas, Marc Neun
Me interviewing Chris Tarrant for the first ATV Land DVD

Then through the ATV Land site I became part of a team which produced two DVD documentary series, which were released on DVD. The first “From ATV Land in Colour” celebrated the studios which I’d wandered into back in 1989 and had since been demolished.

With Chris Tarrant, after interviewing him for
Lee B, CT, Peter Raven, Stephen Thwaites – filming “From ATVLAND in Colour”

The second “From Headlines to Tight-lines: The Story of ATV Today” tracked how ATV’s local news programme had developed in the 60s, 70s and early 80s. The second DVD won an international film-makers award. I’m kinda proud of what we did there.

Me, Stephen Thwaites, Bob Warman, Pete Raven, Mark Bridgwater – filming The Story of ATV Today at ITV Central’s current Birmingham studios
Me interviewing Luton Town’s biggest fan – Nick Owen. This was for our second DVD documentary, The Story of ATV Today
Some more interview action with me interviewing ATV and Central legend – Bob Warman

The ATV documentaries were put together in our spare time. As far as my regular job was concerned I didn’t think I’d ever find somewhere to rival Beacon as the happiest place I ever worked… until 2015, and Big Centre TV. It was no secret to anyone that knows me that I’d always wanted to work in Television. Not that I wasn’t happy with Radio, its simply that Television had fascinated me from the earliest age I can remember and so when the chance came up, I jumped at it and threw myself right into it.

This was my studio director view. Chanelle is with Bostin Bear in the middle, and those are my control screens either side.
This was my studio director view. Chanelle is with Bostin Bear in the middle, and those are my control screens either side.
My first on-screen credit as Floor Manager on The David Hamilton Show
My first on-screen credit as Floor Manager on The David Hamilton Show

I became Senior Studio Director, working on almost all of the in-house programmes. I also compiled and generally presented the Weekend News Magazine programmes. These went under various titles such as “The Big Centre Magazine”, “The Midland Weekend”, “The Big Magazine”, “Birmingham News Weekend Magazine”, but they were essentially the same programme, and more often than not put together by me as a one-man band.

Presenting “The Big Magazine” for Big Centre Television
Presenting the “Weekend Magazine” for Made in Birmingham TV (spot the difference)
A moment in time, frozen on the edit screen. With Natalie Cutler on the Magazine show
An action shot of presenting another double-header programme, again with Natalie
With my Big Centre mate, Chanelle Shea-Calvin – we had such a laugh presenting this show
Another Director’s shot – I had to get all serious in order to present the evening News

I was Newscaster on a number of the main weeknight bulletins, and I also devised and co-hosted my very own quiz show!

Rather wonderfully I was also responsible for bringing back official repeats of one of my favourite TV programmes when I was little – Tiswas – with a programme called “Tiswas Pies Again!”. Plus I was given the dubious honour of putting together a weekly programme to accompany repeats of the Midlands’ favourite Soap Opera Crossroads!

Presenting Crossroads Check-In from the reception desk
One of my early Floor Manager roles on “Cuppa TV” with Monica Price

Both of them were ATV programmes and so I managed a life-long ambition, which was to have my name as the last in the credits (Producer) of a programme broadcast on commercial television, beginning with the famous ATV logo!

Me and my wife Nikki at the Tiswas 40th Birthday Party having a selfie with Matthew (Tiswas rabbit) and his future wife Rebecca
‘Big’ Den Hegarty gives me emergency dental surgery while Marc Neun reminds us why we’re all here
With my wife Nikki re-creating the classic set at the Tiswas 40th Birthday party.
A badge of honour – I loved ATV. We managed to rescue the old studio sign when the building was being demolished

Unfortunately Big Centre didn’t last as long as Beacon, but from the moment I joined them on their very first day of production I decided to make the most of everything. I found myself following exactly the same sort of path as I when I was a teenager at Beacon, getting involved with as much as I could, soaking up as much knowledge as possible, and generally just living the dream! OK, so a lot of the home grown stuff may not always have been quite as slick and professional looking as you might expect from ‘the big boys’ but considering what we had available to us, then I still say we achieved so much, and a lot of it was bloody good too! We cared.

A promotional trailer from the time I presented the evening news programme
I featured on the BBC’s Inside Out programme talking about missing television programmes
I also featured on ITV News Central talking about how TV newsroom sets have changed over the years (that’s Birmingham behind me)
This was the first time we were allowed back into the ATV Centre in Birmingham to talk about Tiswas. Then we made a full and official DVD documentary about the old place!
Still talking about TV News sets (but this time, that’s Nottingham behind me!!)

Its interesting hearing people aspiring to work in the media these days. They often think they should be working on ‘big’ things straight away, or they’re to be found criticizing, and “If I were you, I’d do it like this…”. However, tellingly, when you actually offer a chance, then those words are empty. Quite simply you must work up towards the big things – I did – it’ll never be handed to you on a plate. And you can only really know, when you’ve been there. Remember, its never just what you see on the screen… Staying power and commitment are essential.

Big Centre had a wonderful management team all the way up to the top, and happily I’m still in touch with most of them. Once again, everyone simply mucked in and the team got the job done!

As with Beacon, there were numerous ups and downs along the way (some of the happenings would require a novel-length story to tell, but not here…). Now, Big Centre itself has disappeared. Everyone who was ever part of Big Centre has left too. The result of corporate takeovers once again. Sad isn’t it. But there you go, only my opinion, and that’s as far down that particular path I’m going to go here. But buy me a drink and I’ll tell you exactly how I feel…

Nowadays I’m back in the world of radio, on Cannock Chase Radio every Saturday at Midday (plus I do loads of behind the scenes stuff for them too)

In the Big Centre Magazine studio after another Phantom flanning, live on air.
… and the culprit runs away from the scene …

So, I’ve been a radio presenter and producer, a teacher at school/college/university, a TV presenter/producer/director, a quiz show host, and a rabbit on a kids TV show. I’ve also appeared on BBC TV, BBC Radio, ITV, Local Radio and Local Television.

Some examples of the shows I’ve mentioned above, both TV and Radio, can be seen and heard elsewhere on this website and if there are any missing, I’ll be adding them in very soon. Give me a shout if you want to see more. Tell you what, I’ll probably stop blowing my own trumpet shortly! #butwhynot

I still can’t believe its 30 years – but its still fun!

PS (I’m writing this little bit on 11th June 2021) In the 2 years since writing this article, I’ve now added many more pages on this website expanding on a lot of the things mentioned above, particularly the Big Centre years. Have a look around… and there’s much more to come!